Agency, explanation and ethics in international relations

Damian Cox, Michael Levine

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapter

Abstract

International affairs involve the actions of both state and non-state actors. Some of these actions appear to be legitimate objects of moral judgement. But what assumptions underlie this judgement? Typically, actors in international relations contexts are not individuals, with individual consciences, but bodies of diverse and distributed decision-makers. Under which conditions, then, does it make sense to attribute moral responsibility to them? This is a particularly important question within international relations scholarship because international relations scholars have generally under-utilized the concept of moral agency. Toni Erskine puts the point this way:

. . . while, inter alia, realist, neorealist, neoliberal institutionalist, and some constructivist approaches rely on the agency of the state, the idea that the state might be a bearer of moral burdens is either precluded or (perhaps most notably in the case of classical realist positions) allowed but unexamined. This combination of an uncritical acceptance of the state as an agent and the rejection, or evasion, of its possible role as a moral agent is a puzzling feature of much International Relations scholarship.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Ethics and International Relations
EditorsBrent J. Steele, Eric Heinze
Place of PublicationOxon
PublisherRoutledge
Chapter6
Pages78-89
ISBN (Electronic)9781315725932
ISBN (Print)9781138840201
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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international relations
moral philosophy
moral judgement
conscience
decision maker
acceptance
responsibility

Cite this

Cox, D., & Levine, M. (2018). Agency, explanation and ethics in international relations. In B. J. Steele, & E. Heinze (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Ethics and International Relations (pp. 78-89). Oxon: Routledge.
Cox, Damian ; Levine, Michael . / Agency, explanation and ethics in international relations. Routledge Handbook of Ethics and International Relations. editor / Brent J. Steele ; Eric Heinze. Oxon : Routledge, 2018. pp. 78-89
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Cox, D & Levine, M 2018, Agency, explanation and ethics in international relations. in BJ Steele & E Heinze (eds), Routledge Handbook of Ethics and International Relations. Routledge, Oxon, pp. 78-89.

Agency, explanation and ethics in international relations. / Cox, Damian; Levine, Michael .

Routledge Handbook of Ethics and International Relations. ed. / Brent J. Steele; Eric Heinze. Oxon : Routledge, 2018. p. 78-89.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapter

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AB - International affairs involve the actions of both state and non-state actors. Some of these actions appear to be legitimate objects of moral judgement. But what assumptions underlie this judgement? Typically, actors in international relations contexts are not individuals, with individual consciences, but bodies of diverse and distributed decision-makers. Under which conditions, then, does it make sense to attribute moral responsibility to them? This is a particularly important question within international relations scholarship because international relations scholars have generally under-utilized the concept of moral agency. Toni Erskine puts the point this way:. . . while, inter alia, realist, neorealist, neoliberal institutionalist, and some constructivist approaches rely on the agency of the state, the idea that the state might be a bearer of moral burdens is either precluded or (perhaps most notably in the case of classical realist positions) allowed but unexamined. This combination of an uncritical acceptance of the state as an agent and the rejection, or evasion, of its possible role as a moral agent is a puzzling feature of much International Relations scholarship.

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Cox D, Levine M. Agency, explanation and ethics in international relations. In Steele BJ, Heinze E, editors, Routledge Handbook of Ethics and International Relations. Oxon: Routledge. 2018. p. 78-89